Tag Archives: consumerism

Dawn of The Dead vs iPhone


The main characters in Dawn of the Dead, off on a shopping trip

How can we stop consumerism consuming our lives?

For those of you who’ve seen the classic zombie movie Dawn Of The Dead (spoiler alert), you’ll know it critically comments on consumerism and excess. Trapped conveniently in a deserted American mall during a zombie apocalypse, our heroes can essentially ‘buy’ anything they want. They’ve found a shopping heaven which can provide them with ‘everything they need’.

I’m sure 1000 analyses of the film have been done, commenting on the draw of shopping, even when society has broken down and money is irrelevant. They may be another 1000 covering the contrast between the seeming decadence of the characters lifestyles against the hollowness of their mundane and existence (being a metaphor for our modern isolated way of life). However, the one thing I’d like to focus in on is time – Time spent consuming.

In Dawn Of The Dead, even though they don’t spend money, the characters spend literally all their time ‘shopping’. Everything is free, but they take way more than they need and continually upgrade when they find better stuff in another part of the multi-storey complex.

But how are we similar to those trapped in a mall by the undead? Well, even though the apocalypse is nigh, and lifespans short, these characters choose to devote what time they have left to constant acquisition. On a longer timeline, we do the same thing when we buy things we don’t need. Our time is eaten up by it. Life is short, and each unnecessary purchase robs us of hours spent doing the following:

  • earning the money for the purchase
  • considering a purchase
  • shopping
  • dealing with the thing we’ve bought but don’t need – storing it, maintaining it or getting rid of it (which may also eat up more money).

But what about the time spent buying things we do need? I still spend a lot of time on consuming, even as a minimalist. How is this possible?

Three main reasons:

  1. Planned obsolesce
  2. There’s too much choice
  3. Quality doesn’t necessarily scale with price

Since watching Dawn of the Dead, I’ve been horrified to realise how much time I spend researching and carefully considering even necessary purchases. There’s a minefield of information, reviews, specs etc. Yet can I avoid it?

No, not really.

Let’s look at this through the lens of the iPhone. Mine is 4years old and it’s not broken, but for some functions needed to support my work and travel, I’m now forced to upgrade. This effect is known as planned obsolesce – the art of making a product no longer fit for purpose to force the buying of the next model.

But there’s so much choice! Should I just get another iPhone, or have Apple’s competitors got something better to offer? Even within the realms of the iPhone itself, there are currently 5 models, so that’s a pain too.

There’s no point just buying the most expensive thing on the market, because quality doesn’t necessarily scale with price. As a result, we’re all looking for that golden thing which was dirt cheap but flukily good quality. We’re also worried about buying something top of the range, only to find out we just paid for the logo. Shopping assistants are not experts anymore and can’t usually tell what’s suitable for us.

Basically, we can’t risk skipping the research. Buying the wrong thing could mean having to buy twice. This is worse with electronics, where we can’t judge the quality of the materials on sight. Since we don’t know how long each device will last, price-tags become a red herring.

Spending time, thought or any form of life energy on this problem, makes me feel worse. Why? To explain, I’ll draw on the Buddhist principle of practicing contentment. This concept teaches that seeking more and better material stuff beyond what you need, leads to distraction, dissatisfaction and of course discontent. Therefore, whenever I research phones, I’m essentially practicing discontentment! Not only that, but I’m exposing myself to countless hits of advertising, each strategically designed to activate discontent as their method of selling.

Bill Bailey has a joke about his tough job selling doors, door-to-door (“Bing bong. Can I interest you in a… Oh shit you’ve got one.”), making the point that nobody wants to buy something they already have, so adverts have to counteract this natural sensible human tendency in order to sell to us.

So, what can we do? Seeing Dawn of the Dead clarified to me that, given the chance, consumerism will absorb all of your time. Is it better to spend less time considering a purchase, even if you spend more, since it saves on much needed brain space and time? *Danny Dover might subscribe to this one, but for me the juries out. I don’t know what the solution is. One strategy I’m still employing is to lessen the problem by buying less stuff. Another idea is to make rather than buy, where possible, even if it takes a similar amount of time and money. This is because making is a valuable creative process, including learning new skills and problem solving. It’s a connecting process, where shopping disconnects.

Your opinions please? Do you shop around meticulously to save a fiver? Do you know your brands and just stick to those? Do you have some other rule of thumb? Look forward to your responses in comments.


*https://www.lifelisted.com/blog/8-habits-can-break-improve-life/ – Danny Dover of lifelisted.com often comments “I am a firm believer that humans have a finite amount of decision making energy on any given day”, and advocates minimising that for a more productive and peaceful life. However, it’s not clear whether he applies this to purchases, or mostly to decisions based around daily routines.

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Interesting Parenting Idea To Teach Kids About Money / My non-mis-spent youth

Pocket_money_640x360-600x360My parents did a very unusual thing when I was 12. They decided they were going to give me an allowance, but it was a different kind of allowance. Instead of giving me a certain amount of money to buy what I liked with, they sat down and worked out exactly how much money they were currently spending on me, and then gave me that money on the first of each month. This didn’t include groceries or family meals out, school clothes or textbooks, but it did include other clothing, recreational books, magazines, movies, art materials, school lunch money and school bus fare.

Amazingly, as a 12 year old I took to this idea straightaway and began to budget. I never had a month in which I ran out of money, probably because I took my parents totally at face value. It was implied that the allowance would be taken from me if I failed to buy the essentials with it. I didn’t want that to happen, because I knew that if I could get that stuff cheaper than my parents could, I would have more money to spend on what I really wanted.

One reason this worked so well was that my parents were quite inefficient with money. Before they gave me an allowance they used to buy my non-school clothes quickly on a busy Saturday, without shopping around. They were also hooked consumerists, and insisted on replacing things more often than I thought necessary. With a bit of thought, it would be easy to get things cheaper, and spend the extra money on sweets.

The first thing I did was shop around for clothes. I was amazed to find that a t-shirt in M&S cost the same as a Red Dwarf T-shirt mail ordered from leaflet in the back of the video. No contest! I bought a few of those (too big so I wouldn’t grow out of them) and wore them to death. I refused to replace them when they got holey from tree climbing. This bothered my mother but she kept quiet. I used the cash saved to buy books, magazines and art materials. An instant winner – now I had clothes I really loved, and money left over for entertainment!

Soon it became like a game – the more aspects of my spending I could cut down on, the more I’d have left for what was important to me. False economy quickly showed itself too. My first t-shirt purchase had taught me that buying something that lasted two years instead of one, meant I could spend twice as much on pens. It also meant I took really good care of my stuff to make it last longer.

A few years later I had discovered charity shops, and was making my own clothes with my mother’s sewing machine. I suspected that my parents would cut the allowance if they noticed me skipping lunch to save money, so I never tried that. Instead I started secretly cycling an old beat-up bike to school, leaving the house after my parents so they wouldn’t notice. Yet I was still being given bus fare!

I used some of the extra money to maintain the bike, but now I was saving up for musical instruments. In retrospect, I my parents must have realised I was ripping them off at this point, but kept quiet. Why? Because it was a win-win situation. They were giving me bus fare even though I cycled to school, but at least I wasn’t pestering them to buy me musical instruments, or in fact, to buy me anything at all. Overall, they were still making a saving, whilst teaching me important lessons about budgeting. My parents showed restraint by never making a judgement on what I bought, even when at times, I wasted money on tat. They just let me learn the lessons.

I still got Christmas and birthday presents of course, but because of this scheme, for my entire teenage-hood, my parents and I didn’t argue about money. Not only that – my allowance never raised and I never asked for it to be. By the time I finished school it was the same as it had been when I was 12, even though by that time I was also using it to buy school clothes, and for days out to Oxford and London.

Over the years I have hugely underestimated the value of this leap of faith my parents took, letting a 12year old handle money in this way. By the time I left home I was excellent with money. During university I watched my friends splurge on nights out and then struggle to pay bills. But I’d having already had 6 years of practice taking care of the essentials before buying the fun stuff.

I’ve often wondered what made me conceive of the £0 Challenge which I took in 2014, and hugely added value to my life. In a sense, I was refreshing and deepening the ideas that I learned about as a teenager. My parents hadn’t needed to be good with money to teach me about it – their allowance idea was all the teaching I’d needed. I’m not saying every parent should try this – maybe I was an unusual kid… but it’s worth a thought…

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